COVID-19 affects forest products industry

With millions of Americans already out of work and continued job losses exceeding that of the Great Recession of 2009, U.S. gross domestic product is projected to decline by 8% in 2020. There are projections that it could take up to three years for the U.S. economy to recover from the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, according to a report by McKinsey & Company. 

With strong containment procedures, the recovery could happen as early as 2021; recovery is dependent on the development of vaccines for the virus and mild or no reoccurring outbreaks in 2021. The forest products industry is heavily integrated with the greater economy through housing, manufacturing, and consumer goods. Some likely impacts over the next 2 to 3 years are as follows:

1. Housing starts will fall off, slowing lumber demand and production in the second half of 2020 and first three quarters of 2021.

2. Tree planting and other silvicultural operations will be severely curtailed as immigrant (H2-B visa) workers are restricted in number and those that are available for work in the U.S. will be used for critically needed for food production.

3. A likely national and global recession will last at least through 2020, and may last until the third quarter of 2021, which will affect demand for consumer goods and manufacturing of high value products so consumption of pallets and ties will decline.

4. Home remodeling may actually rise in portions of 2020 and 2021 when stay-at-home orders are relaxed, thus helping ease the decline in softwood and hardwood consumption.

5. Pulp demand should be mixed, with sanitary paper markets being exceptionally strong and finished paper, containers, and packaging markets markedly weaker than 2019.

6. Global trade in wood products will likewise be curtailed until at least mid-2021, with the most severe declines in the second and third quarters of 2020 lasting through the first quarter of 2021, and then possibly a slow recovery that could take as long as 2 years.

The effects will be delayed for the forest products industries, and since demand for wood is derived from manufactured products, the recovery will be slower, particularly for landowners who will likely see very weak stumpage markets in 2021 and 2022. U.S. fiscal policy will likely be to maintain extremely low interest rates to speed the recovery; this will greatly benefit the forest products industry as well. In the very long-term, the additional $2 to $3 trillion of debt that all Americans have taken on could influence economic growth in the future for decades to come.